Feeds

Phages: The powerful new bio-ammo in superbug war

Keep calm and carry on research

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

They're the most abundant form of life on Earth – they have astonishing properties – and we know bugger-all about them.

Bacteriophages were only discovered in 1912, and the Red Army and the Wehrmacht both carried phage water as a bacterial treatment. Then antibiotics came along and science ignored bacteriophages for a very long time. Apart from research at one institute in Georgia, very little science was done for 60 years. Now, phages are being re-appraised in the fight against infection: bacteria are a phage's natural enemy, and with antibiotics becoming increasingly ineffective, we need the little critters more than ever.

A bacteriophage

Israeli scientists at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine in Tel Aviv have established in principle the technique of ensuring bacteria do not retain their resistance to antibiotics.

"Unlike conventional bacteriophage therapy, the system does not rely on the phage's ability to kill pathogens in the infected host, but instead, to deliver genetic constructs into the bacteria, and thus render them sensitive to antibiotics prior to host infection," they note in the abstract to their paper, Reversing Bacterial Resistance to Antibiotics by Phage-Mediated Delivery of Dominant Sensitive Genes, here.

"Genetically altered phages can be developed for any bacterium and used in hospital settings to reverse antibiotic resistance in bacteria that cause hospital-acquired infections," the Wall Street Journal notes.

If successful it calls a halt to the arms race between antibiotic-resistant bugs, and superbugs (such as MRSA), and the pharmaceutical industry's ever more powerful bunker-busting antibiotics. The NHS has trialled phages as protection against MRSA (Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a variant of Staphylococcus) noting their success. Phage treatment was used to guard wounds. Startups such as Fixed Phage, a spin-out from Scotland's Strathclyde University, describes it as "not the end of the battle, but it is an endless supply of ammunition to fight the war".

Which is very timely. Last week, supermarket science tabloid Nature [surely some mistake? Ed] splashed with news of "a totally resistant TB strain", prompting alarmist headlines around the world. And a "calm down dearies" from the World Health Organisation.

We expect the phage story to get rather less media attention. Pity. ®

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.